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Airline industry touts safety, cleaning measures to draw passengers back

Helping passengers feel 'confident' about flying will be key to restoring the airline industry after coronavirus brought travel to a halt, industry experts say.

SEATAC, Wash. — Keeping planes clean, making masks mandatory, setting up its own in house company to manage its way through a viral crisis of confidence. It’s how Delta Air Lines is planning to become an airline of choice for more passengers during the coronavirus crisis and beyond. 

“You couldn’t book a middle seat on Delta right now even if you wanted to,” says Tony Gonchar, Delta’s vice president for Seattle. 

“I think passengers will make decisions on which airline they’re going to fly based on the same decisions they’ll make about which restaurant they’re going to eat at. Those that are practicing the standards that make me feel more safe and secure are the places I’m going to go.” 

Delta is caught in the same crisis that has walloped nearly every airline in the world. The crisis following the pandemic of COVID-19 has cratered the industry, as passengers have fled in more than just droves. At its worst point, passenger traffic was down 95%. That includes Sea-Tac International Airport.

Airlines have parked much of their fleets, grounding their crews. Especially in the earlier phases of the industry's reaction to the pandemic, as social media lit up with images of the remaining masked passengers crowded onto the remaining flights with little to no social distancing — and those middle seats were full.

Delta is working with Sea-Tac airport which is bringing its own set of changes to try and minimize transmission of the virus. Restaurants that are opening are being equipped with ultraviolet handwashing stations that can measure germ counts and zap those germs with light.

But while the airport is requiring masks, and most passengers we saw had them on, many people did not.

The airport is taking an educational stance to encourage the use of masks. No, police are not handing out tickets.

But if you want to fly on Delta, you have to have one and it has to be on from the time your ticket is scanned heading to the jetway to the time you get off. Delta will give you a mask if you don’t have one.

The airline says it has not had to kick passengers off for not wearing masks, but is prepared to do so.

Delta is also checking temperatures of its employees looking for potentially infected workers at its own stations near employee security. Many of its gate positions have plastic shields already installed with more on the way. Those shields were made in-house.

Each flight is electrostatically disinfected before each flight, not just once overnight.

Passengers are returning, slowly. Sea-Tac Airport, which has been one of the fastest-growing airports for the last decade, including years where it was the fastest, has seen its daily passenger counts grow fourfold, from a low of 2,500 passengers a day to 10,600. Delta announced plans to add 1,000 flights this week.

But is it working? KING 5 spoke to several passengers getting off domestic and international Delta flights who said that middle seats were, in fact, open, and passengers were wearing masks.

Anecdotal evidence at least, that confidence in flying may be building to bring passengers back.

The question now is, are people still sitting at home going to start feeling the same way and start heading to the airport?

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